Grace Millane trial: Justice Minister Andrew Little torn on how to stop victims' humiliation

The AM Show 25/11/2019

The Justice Minister is racking his brain, trying to find a way to stop victims' sexual histories being laid bare in criminal trials. 

The three-week trial of the man who murdered British tourist Grace Millane, which ended in a guilty verdict, was frequently focused on the slain woman's sexual history - the defence even using ex-boyfriends' claims of the kinds of risky behaviour she allegedly enjoyed. 

"To whether that is really in the public interest, many people would say that effectively blackens her character," Massey University law professor Chris Gallavin told Newshub at the weekend.

Justice Minister Andrew Little told The AM Show on Monday it's not as simple as just banning such evidence.

"As hard as it may be to hear it, as Minister of Justice I've got to uphold the idea that if you're facing charges from the state that are very serious charges, you've still got to be able to defend yourself.

As uncomfortable as that may be, as foul as some of that evidence might be as well.

Judges already have the ability to decide in advance of a trial what kinds of evidence will and won't be admissible, he explained.

"I guess the juggling act is you want those charged with serious crimes and who could lose their freedom for a long, long period of time to have the right to defend themselves. What we don't like to see is people who can't defend themselves having their reputations dragged through the mud."

It's also not as simple as just kicking the media and public out of the courtroom, Little said.

"One of the principles of our justice system is it's available for anybody to come and have a look. That's why we let the media in. The media quite rightly gets a bit stitchy when they get shut out of proceedings."

The Government currently has a Bill at the select committee stage that will "restrict the kind of evidence that can be put up to stop people being humiliated", Little explained, but in its current form would have done nothing to protect Millane's reputation.

"The Sexual Violence Legislation Bill... deals with victims and survivors of sexual offending and people who to go court, who are still alive, whose sexual conduct or sexual reputation might be the subject of evidence," he said.

"So we've got that covered off... Whether that would apply in the Grace Millance case - which was a murder trial, Grace tragically no longer alive to defend her reputation - the Bill, as we've drafted it, doesn't go that far. I'm not quite sure how we could make it apply in a situation like that."

Andrew Little. Photo credit: The AM Show

Little says he will talk to officials about what can be done. In the meantime, he's urging people not to go spreading the killer's name on social media, as he still has name suppression.

"It will come out eventually and that full story will be told. But at the moment you've got to preserve the integrity of the justice system so justice can be done. 

"The worst thing would be - for those people who think it's smart to go around spreading his name - is he gets to use that as some sort of reason to reduce his sentence, or pre-trial, get off the charge at all... that would not be justice for the Millane family."

Little expects the Bill to become law before the election next year. Members from across the House spoke in favour of it at its first reading earlier this month.

The killer will be sentenced in February. 

The AM Show / Newshub reporter Dan Satherley